Why Protesters Are Squirting Water at Tourists in Barcelona

Demonstrators put symbolic cordon on a bar-restaurant window during a protest against mass tourism on Barcelona's Las Ramblas alley, on July 6, 2024. Credit - Josep Lago—AFP—Getty Images

Thousands of angry Barcelona residents took to the streets over the weekend to participate in a protest against mass tourism in the Spanish city. Their weapon of choice? The humble water pistol.

Video footage showed protesters squirting water from colorful pistols at travelers who were dining in Las Ramblas, a tourist-heavy district. As soggy tourists awkwardly scurried away, Catalans were seen chanting “tourists go home“ and using red tape to cordon off hotel and restaurant entry points. Other demonstrators held signs that said “tourism kills the city.“

The scenes were part of wider protest action that saw around 2,800 people calling for limits to tourism in their home city, according to police figures. But organizers have claimed that seven times as many people took part, the Telegraph reported.

On Saturday, Jaume Collboni, Barcelona’s Socialist mayor, renewed his “firm commitment” toward eliminating Airbnb style short-term rentals in the city within five years. In a post on social media platform X, Collboni said a new housing plan will remove more than 10,000 properties from tourist usage to be returned to residents.

He added that the tourist tax surcharge will be increased from €3.25 ($3.52) to €4 ($4.33) per night, while some tourist revenue will be used to invest in local projects. Barcelona collects around €95 million ($102.9 million) in tourist tax per year, but the sheer expenses incurred from tourism, including cleaning, security, and transportation costs, amounts to €142 million ($153.8.)

Spain saw some 85.1 million international visitors throughout 2023, according to the National Statistics Institute, with 15.6 million visiting Barcelona specifically. But the Catalan capital is not the only place where Spanish locals are fighting back against overtourism.

In April, tens of thousands of people participated in the largest demonstrations against tourism across the Canary Islands, an autonomous community of Spain. The effort was backed by environmental groups including Greenpeace, WWF, and Friends of the Earth.

May saw some 10,000 people on the Spanish island of Mallorca attending similar demonstrations to protest the lack of affordable housing caused by increased tourism. By June, locals occupied Calo des Moro beach in Mallorca to protect it from tourists. Around 300 people held banners saying “SOS residents,” while some attendees gave out leaflets to British and German tourists.

Last month, a further 15,000 people in Málaga—a popular Spanish holiday destination, especially among British and French travelers—marched against the high volume of tourists. The city, located in close proximity to the resorts of the Costa del Sol, has given rise to rapid gentrification, causing housing prices to soar and short term rentals to multiply.

There are currently more than 400,000 short-term rentals across Spain, according to figures from AirDNA, an information services company. But the Spanish government has said it is considering a nationwide ban on tourist rentals within residential buildings.

Spain is hardly the only country to grow weary of tourists. Last year, the city of Amsterdam launched an ad campaign with “stay away” video messages aimed at rowdy young male British tourists. Greece and other popular destinations are also mulling crackdowns on short term rentals.

Write to Armani Syed at armani.syed@time.com.